Between Reforms and a Hard Place:
Can a Conference Save Europe?
Dating back to 2007 and the Treaty of Lisbon, the operating system of the EU has been in need of critical security updates for some time. Information, communication, and financial technologies are disrupting institutions, business models, and regulatory frameworks. Internal EU disagreements but also external, systemic dynamics are challenging the international liberal order. A chain of crises across the European continent is refocusing public attention on debates about the EU’s legitimacy, its democratic deficit, and its significant disconnect from citizens. In the face of all these changes, reforming the EU is crucial. Reforms are hard, but lack of reforms will be harder still, putting the whole European project in a precarious position.
In this context, the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) has been proclaimed as a solution to these problems: a way to bring about critical institutional reforms that can no longer be delayed. However, we cannot forget that the Conference is also one great big experiment in direct democracy, one that has never happened before on such large scale. Will it be enough to unlock Europe’s potential in this period of intense technological disruption? Can it bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens? Will it stave off a new Eurosceptic wave across the continent? Can it create an EU that will finally act as an autonomous global actor to protect and preserve liberal values in the world?